Canada and indigenous group reach tentative deal in dispute that led to road, rail blockades

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian authorities on Sunday reached a tentative deal with an indigenous group in the Pacific province of British Columbia that could end solidarity protests across Canada that have been blocking rail lines and roads for weeks.

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of the indigenous Wet'suwet'en Nation's hereditary chiefs block the Pat Bay highway as part of protests against the Coastal GasLink pipeline, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Light/File Photo

Activists have disrupted passenger and freight traffic to show solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en people, who are seeking to stop TC Energy Corp's TRP.TO Coastal GasLink pipeline from being built across their land.

After three days of talks in which work on the pipeline had been stopped, Indigenous affairs ministers from British Columbia and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government said they reached an agreement that would address future land rights disputes, but said pipeline construction would continue.

After the deal was announced, Coastal GasLink President David Pfeiffer said construction would be restarted on Monday.

The agreement will now be reviewed by the Wet’suwet’en people, British Columbia’s Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser said in a Facebook live stream from the town of Smithers.

That consultations should take about two weeks, Wet’suwet’en hereditary leader Chief Woos said.

The agreement will “create certainty and clarity for the Wet’suwet’en and all British Columbians,” Fraser said, without providing details.

“They are permitted and allowed to go to work,” Fraser said when asked about whether laborers building TC Energy’s GasLink pipeline would be allowed to continue construction.

The proposed agreement includes establishing a permanent table to address legacy land rights and title issues, a senior federal government source said.

Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of crown-indigenous relations, called the agreement a “milestone” in indigenous relations. Bennett declined to reveal any of the deal’s details, saying the Wet’suwet’en people should “see it first”.

Police in the eastern province of Ontario cleared protesters from a major Canadian National Railway Co CNR.TO line on Monday, allowing some shipments to resume.

Trudeau, who says improving relations with aboriginal groups is a priority, called for dialogue. But tensions built quickly as the blockades led to railroad layoffs and shortages of goods like propane and as business groups warned of further economic damage.

At least one rail line in Quebec, south of Montreal, remains blocked as some indigenous protesters were holding out.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said last week that the effects of the disruptions would be felt for weeks and months to come.

Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Grant McCool and Daniel Wallis